Last year when I visited London, I tortured my niece on the Shoreditch Street Art tour so this year, I decided to revisit the street art scene in London, this time with the other vendor, Alternative London, which offers a pay what you want pricing led by a current street artist. I chose the Alternative London Street Art Tour and my guide was Josh, a local street artist.
The tour would meet under the goat statue at the Spitalfields Market. There were many people waiting on one of the hottest days of the year in London – the group would end up being quite large at 28 people (the previous day, the actual hottest day of the year at 93 degrees, had only 4 people on the afternoon tour). For me, twenty eight people is too large a group for just one tour guide as there are delays to gather round and the inevitable slow photo taker bringing up the rear. The tour was scheduled to be two hours.
Josh, was born in the area and had good insight to lead a tour not only about street art but also of the history of the neighborhood and the many changes that have occurred over the years. For those new to street art, Josh told the group to keep an eye out because street art can be anywhere. Look up and see the sculptures on top of the pole, look at the signs, watch the walls for paste ups and stickers. We crossed the street to stop at the local church, one that is now used vs. years ago when the area was sketchy and the church was falling down.
When we saw the many reproductions of the London street art at a local shop, Josh cautioned us not to buy it as it doesn’t support the artist who created the work. Good reminder for all of us to support local artists.
The group was led down Brick Lane and then we made a left on a side street to look at the wall. I was surprised to see that one art piece, by Stik, was still on the wall a year later (a street art rarity, often occurs when there is a lot of publicity surrounding the art). The fact that no one tagged over the art or fully replaced it was pretty amazing.
One of my favorite walls from last year (painted over two weeks after I left) has a new artwork to display. Which do you prefer?
Around the corner, past the park and under the train tracks, the walls were tagged with graffiti – classic graffiti in the barren space under the concrete.
Walking back toward the starting point we passed the Invader piece on the side of a carpark. The Star Wars art came with a funny story of how it was put up in the day with the cops driving by unaware. The artist and friends were dressed as construction workers going as far as closing part of the road and directing traffic. No hiding in the dark of night trying to avoid detection – this was installed in the day in full view of the world – that’s pretty ballsy.
The tour was different than the one I did last year – it was shorter (2 hours vs. 3 hours) and much larger (28 ppl vs. 12 ppl). We didn’t see the Banksy which surprised me – last year the group was excited to find a Banksy, this year, it didn’t seem that the group knew much about street art (hence the tour).
Josh talked about some of the art that he didn’t like especially the Harry Potter series we passed which I felt was a bit inappropriate as we all have our own opinions about “what is art”. Comparing to last year’s tour, this was an appetizer into the world of street art and sufficient if you want a quick two hours and pay what you want.
Josh held out a hat for everyone to throw in what they wanted to pay. The Shoreditch tour I did last year was £15 for three hours and while I could have thrown in £10 for the two hour tour, I saw others throwing in just £5 (really folks? if you can afford to visit London you can afford to be a bit more generous that that – let the guide get two pints for pete’s sake!) so I threw in £15.